Anglo-Saxon Place Names

Anglo-Saxon Place Names

As the Anglo-Saxons settled in the fifth century AD, they pushed further and further inland. Their settlement led to the creation of Anglo-Saxon place names. To begin with, many Anglo-Saxon settlements took on the name of the most important inhabitant of a settlement. ‘Ingas’ was a common ending for Anglo-Saxon place names. For example, the followers of Haesta settled in ‘Haestingas’ - now known as Hastings.

Another Anglo-Saxon development was the addition of ‘ham’ at the end of a place name – meaning homestead or settlement. This tended to replace a personal name. Billingham, for example, meant the settlement of the people of Billa; Nottingham meant settlement of the people of Snot (the ‘s’ has been lost on the modern Nottingham).

The Anglo-Saxons also gave place names to Woking, Wokingham and Wokefield. All three refer to a man called Wocc and mean ‘Wocc’s people’, ‘the settlement of the people of Wocc’ and ‘Wocc’s open land’ respectively.

Map of Anglo-Saxon Britain
Map of Anglo-Saxon Britain

The Saxons’ religion also influenced place names. Some settlements were named in honour of the gods Woden (Wednesbury in Staffs), Tiw (Tysoe in Warwickshire) and Thunor (Thursley in Surrey). Others were given names after the supernatural – Shuckburgh in Warwickshire came from ‘demon’s hill’ while Pook’s Hill in Sussex meant ‘hill haunted by a goblin’.

The names of many British towns derive from the Saxons: 

  • Hereford means ‘army ford’ to indicate a river crossing large enough to manage an army.
  • Stafford means ‘ford by a landing place’.
  • Oxford means ‘ford for oxen’.
  • Bedford means ‘Beda’s ford’.
  • Hertford means ‘stag ford’.
  • Buckingham means ‘ground by a river that belongs to Bucca’s people’.
  • Cambridge developed from ‘Grantacaestir’ and ‘Granebrycg’, both of which meant ‘bridge over the River Granta’.
  • Warwick probably means ‘premises (the ‘wic’ in Warwick) of the dwellers by the weir’.

The suffix ‘wic’ was commonly used after directions, such as Northwich, Southwick, Westwick and Eastwick. It was also used with a prefix referring to trees – for example Hazelwick and Ashwick. ‘Wic’ could also be used with plants (as in Rushwick) and farms such as Woolwich, Saltwick (salt farming) and Butterwick.

The Anglo-Saxons also frequently used the ending ‘worth’, meaning enclosure. The meanings of Littleworth and Highworth are clear but some are less obvious:

  • Hinxworth means ‘horse enclosure’.
  • Turnworth means enclosure by the thorn trees.
  • Lindworth means enclosure by the lime trees.

Many place names have ‘tun’ as a suffix, meaning enclosure, farmstead or village. Tonbridge (Kent) is one of the few places where it comes as a prefix as opposed to a termination (though it has been thought that the town was named after Tunna). Names with ‘tun’ or a derivative and a direction in front of it are common – Norton, Sutton and Weston, for example. Some place names refer to nearby natural features such as Brockton and Brotton, which are both references to local brooks. Marston and Merston refer to a nearby marsh while Wotton and Wootton refer to a nearby wood.

A combination of ‘ham’ and ‘ton’ can be found in such places as Northampton, Littlehampton and Oakhampton.

The Anglo-Saxons also used tree names along with ‘ley’ (meaning wood or clearing in a wood). Oakley, Ashley, Thornley and Elmley are self-explanatory. Lindley refers to lime trees, Uley to yew trees and Willey to willow trees.

See also: Viking Place Names

MLA Citation/Reference

"Anglo-Saxon Place Names". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.